The Australian small business community has been crystal clear on what they need and expect to see from the major parties this election. COSBOA (Council of Small Business Organisations Australia) have outlined exactly what the Coalition and Labor are offering small businesses, but are they actually addressing your concerns? Let’s take a look.
Worker shortages and skilled migration
COSBOA says skilled migration that meets small business demands is a key factor, with cuts to red tape and restrictions to make hiring skilled workers easier topping the wishlist.
Coalition policy states that they will ensure skilled stream places will account for around 70 per cent of the 2022-23 migration program, and will deliver faster and cheaper skills assessments, however COSBOA says that this policy indicates no change to the current situation; in fact, migration numbers would remain the same.
Labor’s policy plans to reform the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme’s Seasonal Worker Program, with the Federal government to meet upfront travel costs for workers and establish a dedicated Agricultural visa scheme. COSBOA highlights that this policy only addresses workers from the Pacific, with no mention of skilled migration from other regions of the world.
Workforce development, skills and productivity
COSBOA says removing barriers such as negative impacts on tax and access to benefits and pension are necessary, as well as small business and sole trader tax exemptions for the continued education of trainees.
The Coalition have offered measures such as the Skills and Training Boost (a 20 per cent bonus tax deduction for businesses investing in external training) as well as extending wage subsidies for apprenticeships for a further three months. They include $2.8 billion for a streamlined Australian Apprenticeships Incentive System and $3.7 billion to support more training places, but only if states agree to a new funding deal. $49.5 million is also slated to expand the JobTrainer program for 15,000 places to support aged care sector – again, if states match funding.
Labor say they will introduce a raft of new measures to support TAFE training, with $50 million to boost technology on TAFE campuses and ensuring at least 70 per cent of Commonwealth education funding is for TAFE. Additionally, a Fee Free TAFE Plan for industries with skills shortages, and a new body called Jobs and Skills Australia to work with employers, unions, and the VET sector on workforce planning are on the table. They say they’ll deliver a new national skills agreement, working in partnership with states and territories.
Supply chain / inflation
COSBOA says the rising costs of running a business are an immediate problem for all small businesses, with critical supply chain issues impacting the most.
The Coalition’s $200 million Supply Chain Resiliency Initiative – part of the Regional Accelerator Program announced in the 22-23 Budget – includes grants for manufacturing businesses to address supply chain vulnerabilities for eligible critical products, while their $2.5 billion modern manufacturing strategy aims to help manufacturing businesses scale up and modernise.
Labor’s policy focuses on a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund designed to build supply chain resilience across the economy, funding projects to expand manufacturing self-sufficiency. This includes a $1 billion advanced manufacturing fund to support manufacturing businesses of all sizes, and ‘Start-up Year’, which would offer income contingent loans to 2,000 final year students and recent graduates to support their participation in accredited accelerator programs.
COSBOA says they want a coherent plan for energy and a decrease in the price of energy where that can be achieved.
The Coalition are offering a $60 million Powering Business program to support businesses in energy-intensive industries to lower their energy bills, as well as $17.9 million to the Business Energy Advice program. Also on the table are banning late penalty payments, big stick legislation requiring energy companies to pass on savings, a default market offer, setting up reference price, investments in microgrids, Snowy 2.0, and a new gas-fired power station in the Hunter Valley.
Labor say their Powering Australia plan will lower household power bills by $275 a year in 2025 and $378 in 2030, as well as lowering power bills for SMEs by 18 per cent in 2025 and 26 per cent in 2030, according to their modelling. It offers $20 billion to upgrade the grid to handle more renewable power, $100 million for 85 solar banks across the country (allowing renters to use solar), and 400 community batteries – although it’s unclear if these will be available to small businesses. Labor say they will match the Coalition’s commitment to a $60 million Powering Business program to support businesses in energy-intensive industries.
COSBOA are keen to see a mandate for least-cost routing as the default, as well as a mandate that all debit cards work on more than one network (multi-network debit cards), and the creation of a dual network provision in mobile wallets.
The Coalition’s solution is to bring the authority to legislate the payments systems framework into the Treasury Portfolio, so that the Government can directly create outcomes for small businesses in this area. They suggest that this will reduce the cost of doing business, specifically including the ability to modernise payments system legislation to accommodate new systems like BNPL and digital wallets.
Labor simply state that they will mandate least-cost routing (or similar) as soon as they come to office, with a clear timeline for implementation.
COSBOA want a Model Schedule inserted into modern awards relevant to small businesses, co-designed with industry associations. They also want all stakeholders (employer and employee groups) to come to the table to find a solution to wage underpayment and agree on a way forward on criminalising underpayments.
The Coalition’s policy is to establish a dedicated small business unit in the Fair Work Commission to help small business navigate their workplace obligations; a measure designed to support small business to deal with fair work issues. COSBOA agree this would be helpful but have concerns that it is more of a band-aid solution to the real issue; that the system is simply too complex for a small business to navigate themselves. The Coalition says they will pass the reforms in the 2021 Omnibus Bill, including BOOT reform, Greenfields agreement, ability for part-timers to work overtime at regular wage, and criminalisation of wage theft.
Labor’s policy promises to make wage theft a criminal offence and to work with COSBOA and the ACTU to develop simpler and more certain workplace relations environments for small businesses. They aim to use relationships with unions and industry to deliver better outcomes with settings that are simpler, more accessible and fair, and to enshrine secure work as an objective of the Fair Work Act, as well as enshrining ‘same job, same pay’ into law. However, COSBOA says the ‘same job, same pay’ policy is very concerning, stating that it could add more complexity to the system, not improve it.
COSBOA believes that issues surrounding unfair contract terms should be enhanced and sanctions increased for those who scam and exploit small business people. They also state that more funding for the ACCC is essential, as well as updates to Section 50 of the ACCC Mergers Guidelines, and a mandate that all mergers over a certain threshold should seek approval from the ACCC. Funding for a campaign to encourage Australians to support local small businesses is also on the wishlist.
The Coalition’s policy offers $10.4 million to enhance and redesign the Payment Times Reporting Register, plus $4.3 million for a new Franchise Disclosure Register. They say they will legislate enhanced protections against unfair contract terms and create stronger penalties for breaches under the Franchise Code of Conduct.
Labor says they will create a mechanism to mandate 30-day payments, legislate enhanced protections against unfair contract terms, and allow the ACCC to issue civil penalties against businesses issuing unfair contract terms.
Better regulation and tax reform
COSBOA says there’s a lot to be done in tax reform. They want the Instant Asset Write Off extended as well as incentivising investment through tax reforms, plus a commitment to modernising superannuation guarantee legislation and payment systems, and improving the ANZSIC code system to better reflect small businesses of all sizes. They also want to see funding for the ABS to do more research into the nature of sole traders and micro businesses.
The Coalition’s policy offers to stop new taxes on small businesses, lower the GDP uplift rate for PAYG and GST from 10 per cent to 2 per cent, and extend the Instant Asset Write Off until 30 June 2023. It includes allowing businesses with turnover under $5 billion to offset losses against previously-taxed profits to generate refund (until 22-23), and automating ATO reporting requirements, including pre-filling of state payroll tax returns and continuing the implementation of Single Touch Payroll and the adoption of eInvoicing by setting the standard with Government contracts.
Labor says they will support the continuation of measures in this year’s Budget and the previously legislated Instant Asset Write Off. They offer to cut paperwork and target support while driving a genuine collaboration with small businesses and government to reduce the time small businesses spend doing taxes.
COSBOA wants government to address the growing problem of cybersecurity for small business and to implement an awareness and education program which addresses the disconnect between small business and the work of the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
The Coalition’s policy includes the Technology Investment Boost (20 per cent bonus tax deduction for investing in new technology for digitisation, cybersecurity, etc.) and a 24/7 cyber security hotline at the ACSC.
Labor seeks to establish a National Anti-Scam Centre that would bring together law enforcement, banks, telecommunications providers and consumer advocates to harden national defences protecting consumers and small businesses. They also say they will task a Minister with direct portfolio responsibility for the protection of consumers and businesses online.
COSBOA wants programs to educate, develop skills and the preparedness of small businesses to deal with disasters.
The Coalition have only announced support for previous disasters – $6 billion for NSW and QLD floods and $2.8 billion to the 2019-20 bushfire recovery. They have directed the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, to conduct a national review into Natural Disaster and Preparedness for the Government to use as a foundation to address future planning and preparation coordination and requirements for small businesses across the nation.
Labor’s policy says they will work closely with states, territories, industry groups and communities to end the uncertainty around the support small businesses are able to access in a crisis. They pledge to continue the Disaster Funding Arrangements with state governments, and, if matched by state and territory governments, invest $400 million annually in disaster prevention and resilience (e.g, flood levees, sea walls, cyclone shelters, evacuation centres, fire breaks, telecommunications improvements). They say they aim to assist with spiralling insurance premiums by reducing risk of damage.
Mental health and other support
COSBOA want acknowledgement and mental health support for small business owners who have been significantly challenged by natural disasters and the pandemic.
The Coalition’s policy includes $4.6 million for free mental health support to small businesses in partnership with Beyond Blue, $2.1 million to extend the free Small Business Debt Helpline, and $61 to extend the Rural Financial Counselling Service.
Labor says they will deliver on initiatives already budgeted by the Coalition including free mental health support to small businesses in partnership with Beyond Blue, extending the free Small Business Debt Helpline, and continuing the Rural Financial Counselling Service. They promise to reinstate 50 per cent Medicare loading for telehealth psychiatry mental health consultations and to expand the network of Headspace mental health services.
COSBOA says small businesses should be given fair and equitable access to government contracts.
The Coalition says their policy will disaggregate major contracts into smaller contract opportunities to allow greater access to SMEs, and authorise Department of Defence to directly purchase and tender from SMEs for procurements up to $500,000. They say they will also extend Supplier Pay on Time or Pay Interest Policy to all government contracts.
Labor’s so-called ‘Buy Australian Plan’ includes promises to:
- Establish a future Made in Australia Office backed up by laws to lock in key elements of Commonwealth Procurement Rules to support local industry.
- Decode and simplify procurement processes to make it easier for small businesses to get government work.
- Increase the threshold where agencies can directly engage SMEs from $200,000 to $500,000.
- Make it easier for small businesses to gain membership within panel arrangements.
- Where possible, source at least 4 per cent of research and development in government-funded agencies worth over $50 million from small businesses.
- Continue the procurement linked payment times and 5-day small business invoice framework.
You can see the full COSBOA Policy Comparison here.
This article originally appeared on Kochie’s Business Builders, read the original here.
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